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Officials tout key milestone in New Jersey side of Gateway project

The current Portal Bridge, a 114-year-old swing design, is the cause of many delays on the Northeast Corridor. (Evan Simko-Bednarski)
Evan Simko-Bednarski
The current Portal Bridge, a 114-year-old swing design, is the cause of many delays on the Northeast Corridor. (Evan Simko-Bednarski)
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Work on a major rail-bridge replacement through the Meadowlands — a key portion of the Gateway project to expand rail access into Penn Station — was declared halfway done Monday.

The Portal North Bridge, which will carry two tracks of Amtrak and NJ Transit traffic over the Hackensack River as well as 2 miles of New Jersey swamp, will replace a 114-year-old swing bridge known for causing delays on the Northeast Corridor.

“[William] Howard Taft sat in the White House when this bridge was built,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) told reporters in Kearny, N.J., on Monday, referencing the current Portal Bridge. “The New York Giants played baseball at the Polo Grounds.”

NJ Transit President Kevin Corbett
Evan Simko-Bednarski
NJ Transit President Kevin Corbett ((Evan Simko-Bednarski))

The sweeping Gateway project seeks to run two new tracks under the Hudson River and into Penn Station — with the goal of allowing repairs to the existing North River tunnels and eventually doubling the number of trains that can enter Penn Station.

“This is not a 20-year project, this is a once-in-a-century project,” said NJ Transit President Kevin Corbett. “The girders are now mostly in place — it’s looking like a bridge.”

The project also calls for an extensive overhaul of the lines through New Jersey’s Meadowlands, the semitamed marshland along the Hackensack and Passaic rivers.

The Portal North Bridge and its partner, the eventual Portal South Bridge — which will run along the existing swing bridge’s right-of-way — are the crown jewels of the effort to double train traffic across the swamp.

But even by itself, the Portal North Bridge is expected to alleviate train delays and speed up rail travel between northern New Jersey and Manhattan with updated signals and rails, and by being tall enough for marine traffic to pass under.

Federal and New Jersey Transit officials declared the North Portal Bridge "50% complete" on Monday.
Evan Simko-Bednarski
Federal and New Jersey Transit officials declared the North Portal Bridge “50% complete” on Monday. (Evan Simko-Bednarski)

“Fifty percent is a pretty remarkable accomplishment on any project because it sort of means you’ve gotten to the top of it and now you’re on the descent, landing,” said Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak’s board.

“When you think of the idea of 12 million pounds of steel, 50,000 cubic yards of concrete — there are 400 workers here on a daily basis, working,” he added.

“There aren’t superlatives that I could provide that would adequately capture the difference it’s going to make in people’s lives when we build this megaproject.”

When complete, the project will “create the kind of modern four-track system that exists in most parts of the world, but doesn’t exist here,” said Coscia.

But that four-track system is a long way off.

The Portal North Bridge — expected to open in 2026 — will carry two tracks, allowing the current bridge to be demolished and eventually replaced with the two-track Portal South Bridge — a project for which no contracts have been issued and no time line set.

Workers climb to the top of the new structure that will become the North Portal Bridge.
Evan Simko-Bednarski
Workers climb to the top of the new structure that will become the North Portal Bridge. (Evan Simko-Bednarski)

Work to prepare the riverbed for the Hudson River tunnel into Penn Station began this year. But that work of shoring up the ground ahead of tunnel boring isn’t expected to wrap up before 2027.

Even when the Hudson River tunnel is complete, four-track operation will rely on the repair of the 1910 North River Tunnels that currently connect New Jersey to Penn Station, aging  infrastructure officials say still bears damage from Superstorm Sandy.

The Gateway project, which also includes the digging of a link under Jersey City and Hoboken, N.J., to connect the Meadowlands to the Hudson River tubes, is estimated to cost at least $40 billion total.

A report last week by Amtrak’s inspector general .

The report warned that Amtrak and NJ Transit needed better interagency communication, and that Amtrak’s staffing of the project had at times been insufficient.

The existing right-of-way across the Hackensack River will eventually be repurposed as the South Portal Bridge. (Evan Simko-Bednarski)Coscia said that his railroad took no issue with the report’s conclusion and would work to meet the inspector general’s recommendations.

Corbett, the NJ Transit head, brushed the assessment aside.

“We got this far,” he said. “I have no doubt that the team — the collective team, the Amtrak and the [NJ] Transit team, will deliver this.”

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